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Collapse & Carbon Budgets

A few thoughts. This is an evolving post, a draft.

"Humanity faces a difficult truth: climate change is making our planet uninhabitable," - Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General.

‘Yet at a time when civilization is accelerating toward disaster, climate silence continues to reign across the bulk of the US news media. Especially on television, where most Americans still get their news… Many newspapers, too, are failing the climate test. Last October, the scientists of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a landmark report, warning that humanity had a mere 12 years to radically slash greenhouse-gas emissions or face a calamitous future in which hundreds of millions of people worldwide would go hungry or homeless or worse. Only 22 of the 50 biggest newspapers in the United States covered that report.’-Columbia Journalism Review:

"If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless, or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors forever and ever." Jeremiah 7:5-7

At times, it is challenging to confront reality and truth, especially when doing so elicits emotional pain, guilt, and moral pressure to change established norms. Yet, as Jeremiah warns, this reality needs to be embraced if disaster is to be averted.

It is only by awakening to the imminent threat of judgment and exile—as a consequence of 'business as usual,' militarism, oppression, injustice, and idolatry—that repentance and societal recalibration can take place and avert the worst of what may be. The task of the prophet is to awaken awareness of the reality of existential threat to produce a paradigm shift in thought and action that averts the worst of what may be.

Reality matters, repentance matters, and changing the outcome desperately matters.

As Jeremiah found, there is a counter-narrative at work that runs counter to reality. This is the story enacted by the establishment, in Jeremiah's case, the temple elite, which benefits from the status quo and downplays talk of radical change. In our own day, dark and powerful forces are at work, propagated by the myths of unrestrained capitalism and consumerism, and embodied in corporations and financial systems.

These entities downplay reality due to the adverse implications truth has for short-term profit, wealth accumulation, and the interests of shareholders.

The climate crisis embodies one such harsh reality. Regardless of climate deniers and crisis minimizers, biophysical reality confirms that we are living in a warming world and heading towards an unlivable future marked by immense suffering. At 1.2 degrees above preindustrial temperatures, we are already seeing immense strain on human civilization through fires, floods, and an increase in extreme weather. There is little doubt, given that we are on a trajectory to 2.7 degrees by 2100, that human civilization is facing collapse in a world marked by both mass migration and starvation.

Accepting this reality can be unsettling because, if true, it necessitates immense changes in our daily lives, the functioning of our civilizations, and the comforts we've grown accustomed to.

Regardless of our beliefs, change is inevitable.

Regardless of what we do, this civilization is finished.

It will either die or rapidly transition.

If temperatures continue to rise, the consequences include the collapse of society and a world of death, destruction, and decay.

Alternatively, another path we may take is to urgently adapt our lives and transform our civilization to avert a catastrophic future. This transition will not be easy, as it will entail, for some, the relinquishment of perceived security and pleasure and the emotional distress stemming from facing our common existential threat.

Reality matters, repentance matters, and changing the outcome desperately matters.

To grapple with this truth and acknowledge reality as it stands, we must confront a series of difficult questions. One of these pressing questions revolves around how much more carbon emissions we can afford to release into the atmosphere to avoid irreversible tipping points.

What is the remaining carbon budget if we aim to keep global temperatures from exceeding, for instance, 1.5, 1.8, or 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels?

Following this, we must ponder another critical question: If we have a limited carbon budget, and some experts argue that we have already surpassed this threshold, how should we allocate these emissions to avoid triggering irreversible tipping points that could thrust us into a hothouse Earth scenario?

Additionally, who should have the authority to make these decisions? Could it be that the global elite (those who have the most wealth and power) get to decide how the carbon budget is spent?

As it currently stands, the wealthiest 1% of the world's population is responsible for more than twice as much carbon pollution as the 3.1 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity.

Should our carbon budget be used for the luxurious lifestyles of the super-rich who have hoarded wealth, or should it be evenly distributed across the globe, or perhaps there should be a bias towards the poorest countries, allowing those who live in destitution to develop resilience and infrastructure to have the best chance of surging through the coming decades?

Or, shifting the conversation to something a little more difficult, for it is easy to point the finger at the 1%, without dealing with something closer to home.

Let’s take aviation and flying. When airplanes travel around the globe, they use up some of our remaining climate budget. Most flights take place for pleasure, and most people in the world do not fly.

Do we ignore carbon budgets and continue to expand the aviation industry? In doing so, we move further towards societal collapse. Or, do we seek to curtail the growth of the aviation industry, thereby allowing any remaining carbon budget to be spent on that which is essential rather than desirable?


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